The Fisherman of Halicarnassus

Cevat Sakir Kabaagacli
(1890 – 1973)

Cevat Sakir, or the Fisherman of Halicarnassus, was a writer, a traveller, and a historian. He was the one who planted the seeds which had transformed a small fishing town to a tourism and entertainment brand in the beginning of the 20th century.

For me, he was a real-life hero. If I have decided to learn more about the Aegean region and Bodrum, it is because of his works telling the difficult lives of the locals, their habits, and cultures in the beginning of the 20th century.

Portrait of the Fisherman of Halicarnassus
Portrait of the Fisherman of Halicarnassus (Image credit: Independent Turkce)

He did not just write things, he actively sought new ways to make things better for the region. He travelled along the Aegean coast, planted thousands of trees with his bare hands, found new ways to generate income for the natives, investigated the history that shaped culture and defined the world-famous blue cruises.

A Bodrumian’s pride and love for The Fisherman of Halicarnassus is a must see. His name is everywhere; on the streets, on giant trees, at Aegean gullets, on bars and on the most impressive books written about the town and its surroundings. When someone says “The Fisherman”, people know it is Cevat Sakir.

It is a shame that Bodrum does not have a museum dedicated to his name. Instead, some of his personal items are on display at Bodrum Maritime Museum. While giving the credit to the creators of the museum, I believe one of the houses he lived should have been turned into a museum where his memory will live forever.

You can consider this as a humble request from the authorities…

Life of Cevat Sakir Kabaagacli

Cevat Sakir Kabaagacli was born on April 17th, 1890, in Crete. His father was Mehmet Sakir Pasha who was assigned as a governor and the ambassador in Athens and Crete. His mother was a Cretan lady, Sare Ismet Hanim. Kabaagacli was named after his uncle, Cevat Sakir Pasha who was the grand vizier of Abdulhamit II, the 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

He spent his childhood in Athens where his father was tasked as the Ottoman Ambassador. At the school age, he moved to Istanbul and graduated from high school in 1907. This was also the year when his first article was published in a newspaper.

The bust of the Fisherman of Halicarnassus at the castle entrance
A Bust of The Fisherman at the entrance of Bodrum Castle

His dream was to study seafaring in England, but his father sent him to Oxford University to study history. In 1913, he married an Italian lady and settled in Italy.

After a short while, he came back to Istanbul and started to work for newspapers as a columnist. In 1914, his family went into financial troubles and moved to their family farm in Afyon. During a family argument, his father was accidentally shot with a bullet from the fisherman’s gun and fell dead.

There are some rumours on streets whispering that it might not have been an accident. Some say the argument arose from his father’s emotional and insistent affinity to the Fisherman’s wife, not because of the financial issues. Yet, Bodrum is a small town, and some people love to talk about others. Better not to give any credit and stick to what we have in official records.

He was sentenced to 15 years for murdering his father. When he got tuberculosis in the prison, he had paid only 7 years of his sentence, so he was released prematurely.

He had to work and started to write stories and essays on various newspapers in Istanbul. One of his articles about death sentences put him on a trial once again in 1925: a censorship that changed his life and Bodrum’s future.

Cevat Sakir was found guilty. His sentence was to be exiled to an isolated fishing and sponge diving town for three years. Guess where we are talking about!

He served half of his sentence in Bodrum and was sent back to Istanbul for the rest. But a year and a half were more than enough for him falling in love with this small village. After he was released, he moved back to his prison, this time with his own will, and stayed there for 25 years.

Books about the Fisherman of Halicarnassus
A book about The Fisherman by Roger Williams and one of The Fisherman’s works: Aganta Burina Burinata

He started to write novels and stories about the culture and daily lives of indigenous people of the Aegean in 1926. He told how sea can change people’s lives in a small village where economy depends on only fishing and sponge diving.

While searching new stories along the coastline from north to the south on old fishing boats, the Fisherman of Halicarnassus realized that there is something special and unique on the combination of turquoise waters and the green mountains. After this point, he started to extensively use this beauty in his books.

He passed away from cancer in 1973 and was buried in Bodrum as his last will. His coffin was placed on a boat named “Halikarnaslim” which can be translated as “My Halicarnassian”.

In the Bodrum Maritime Museum, right next to a wooden model of this boat, his daughter’s words about the funeral of the Fisherman are written on a plate:

My father’s coffin was placed on the boat “Halikarnaslim” and became seaborne for a while. The Fisherman of Halicarnassus was able to say farewell to his beloved Karaada and Salmakis. The boat carried the coffin all around the bay, and then rounded the castle where it was brought ashore. There was a call in the harbour: “Only the fishermen should come forth” and thus my father’s coffin was entrusted to them.

Ismet Noonan Kabaagacli, October 1973
The wooden model of Halikarnaslim at Bodrum Maritime Museum
The wooden model of Halikarnaslim at Bodrum Maritime Museum

Final Words On Fisherman of Halicarnassus

The Fisherman of Halicarnassus has more than 30 novels and much more stories. He has also published some books in English like the first touristic guide for Ephesus, Halicarnassus Guide, The Mediterranean Civilization, Asia Minor and An Outline of the History of Turkey.

And the Wikipedia entry ends with the following words;

He is largely credited for bringing the formerly sleepy fishing and sponge-diving town of Bodrum, as well as the entire shoreline of the Blue Cruise, to the attention of the Turkish intelligentsia and the reading public first, and by extension, for paving the way towards the formation of international tourist attraction to the region became.
Cevat Sakir had a deep impact on the evolution of intellectual ideas in Turkey during the 20th century. An erudite and colourful person, he remains a figure of reverence.

To the Fisherman, with respects…

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